Continuing to extend the ideas of their blockbuster success Why Nations Fail and its ever-
The stakes could not be lower, and frankly, the analysis is correspondingly disappointing.
The central tenet of the parent analysis, Why Nations Fail, is that a successful state must combine political centralization with inclusive political and economic institutions, such that people have motivation to innovate while feeling secure that their innovations will benefit them personally. So far, so good. But the application of this principle to linguistic theories proceeds roughly according to this inexplicable “logic”:
Prior to Saussure, linguistic theories were like peach pies: crusty on the outside but gooey and unregulated on the inside.
Saussure’s great innovation was not his structural framework, but rather the fact that he delayed publication of his “academic novel” until after his own death, allowing the instant creation of a hagiography, rather than a testable theory.
Sapir and Bloomfield frittered away years in fruitless competition for the soul of American Linguistics, while utterly failing to secure motion picture contracts for their banner publications, Language and Language, respectively.
Following the Second World War (to which three entire chapters are inexplicably devoted in this book ostensibly about something else), Linguistics in the West chose to ensconce itself not in a meaningful public institution, such as the justice system, but rather in major Universities. This led to increasing irrelevance for the field as a whole.
Finally, Noam Chomsky was clearly a politician at heart, but he somehow never managed to integrate Linguistics with his political vision of a rule-
This reader found the analysis shallow and unworthy both of the original book Why Nations Fail (which is pretty good), and of the discipline of Linguistics (which I consider to be much more like an apple pie than a peach one). It is not clear from the text whether the authors actually read Saussure or Bloomfield. They do include a lot of quotes from Sapir, but so does everybody, so that doesn’t really prove they read him either. (Nobody reads Chomsky, so I don’t care if they did or not.)
The main hope that this reviewer can hold out is this: Acemoglu and Robbins have finally probed the least significant topic they can think of, and this may well be the last book they write.